Just Because You Can?

A while back I had occasion to review the design of a very high-end residence hall facility at an institution of higher learning I can’t name. It is not in the US, so it is unlikely your alma-mater.

There seemed to be no limit on the budget. Each room was equipped with full digital video/voice/data and Internet connectivity. Outside each room a digital touchscreen “whiteboard” where the occupant could leave messages for their buds, who could then leave replies.

Students carried an ID card that gave them building access, paid for their purchases, started the washers and dryers, and most likely unknown to them, tracked their movements. Since the students were members of wealthy families, security was extensive. One goal of the security system was to restrict male student access to female resident halls. There was even discussion of devices that could identify gender remotely. (There were none.)

The consequence of all this was outrageous cost, not to mention a system management nightmare. I don’t know if it all ever worked, but I rather doubt it.

So where am I going with this? Just a mini-rant about technology and what we do with it. We as a technological civilization now have resources and the mind to control our lives and world in minute detail.

A lot of it, particularly medical advancements can be valuable. I have a relative who had bypass surgery twice in her 50’s, a couple of stings, a mastectomy, and two broken hips. She will be 94 this year. Had she been born 20 years earlier, she would have lived half as long. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that we know too much about our health. I have a grandson who was born with a particular heart issue. It has and will cause anxiety for his parents for years to come. It is hereditary, and I have the same issue, but I was 60-something before I found out rather accidentally. I lived most of my life not knowing, and with no impact on my life. In truth I don’t know which scenario is best.

But I veer.

There is a point to my rant. Just because you can do something does not mean you should.

Apply the “What Idiot” test to your designs. Ten years from now — or next week, will someone say, “What idiot thought of this?”


I am not a teacher–I don’t have the patience for it. But I really admire those who do. I know some great teachers. These are people who find real joy seeing the light come on in a student’s eyes when they finally “get it.”  

We in the US are in the unfortunate position of dealing with many years of “dumbing down” of our education system. Efforts to standardize education–while noble in concept–have really just established a standard for conformity and only served to maximize mediocrity. A car race where everyone is required to drive 55 offers little motivation for those who can go 100.

Of course, the Really Big Problem is using education to further an agenda. I came across this a while back. (Sorry, but I don’t know how to attribute it.)

1. Teaching Math In 1950s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit ?

2. Teaching Math In 1960s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

3. Teaching Math In 1970s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?

4. Teaching Math In 1980s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

5. Teaching Math In 1990s

A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers, and if you feel like crying, it’s ok. )